It’s mental health awareness week (and month)! It’s a great time to explain what living with a mental illness is really like in an attempt to reduce the stigma surrounding it. I was also inspired to write this post as since I became open about my depression and anxiety, a staggering number of people have confided in me about their own struggles. However, whilst the prevalence of mental health conditions did surprise me, I found it really upsetting that most people feel that they can’t confide in their close family and friends about this. Some people are ashamed or they have experienced a bad reaction before – this is all as a direct result of mental health stigma.
Depression is not being lazy
There is a common misconception that feeling so unmotivated that you can’t function is a choice and it’s incredibly insulting to be called lazy. I would say that I’m a really organised person, with a lot of goals and plans but sometimes I get overwhelmed and can’t focus on completing a task – which is not fun. I understand that people who have never went through anything like this will struggle to imagine suffering from this, but with every physical illness compassion is always given – this should not be any different.
From an onlookers perspective, maybe it does appear that I’m being lazy lying on my bed but I would so much rather be checking off some items on my never-ending to do list. I just want to stress that there is nothing enjoyable about being consumed by your depressive thoughts and anxieties, while a comedic show provides background noise. That is not a productive use of my time and I feel guilty with every minute I waste.
You’re too young to experience stress
Stress and anxiety have the same symptoms and while stress is a logical reaction, anxiety is worrying unnecessarily. It is true that with getting older comes more responsibilities, but no one can be too young to experience stress, imagine being a student balancing studying, going to classes with having a part-time job and socialising – that is stressful. That stress is also logical. Stress is extremely detrimental and although not a mental illness, it is something that is of high importance to be dealt with appropriately.
Anxiety is no big deal
It’s really important to recognise the difference between being anxious and having an anxiety disorder. Anxious behaviours used to be extremely beneficial to make sure that our species could survive by hiding or escaping from predators. In addition, being anxious is still helpful today, if we did not feel nervous for an upcoming exam we would not be motivated to study. However, when you feel anxious about things that you shouldn’t and this begins to restrict your life, then you have an anxiety disorder.
It frustrates me that whenever I am physically ill because of my anxiety that people may assume that I’m having normal pre-exam nerves, for example. There’s nothing wrong with being anxious before a high-stress situation; but when people tell me that they are feeling exactly same way, it belittles the struggle that I have to go through. Everyone can relate to being anxious, which is why people may think it’s no big deal, but not everyone can relate to having a high level of anxiety for a prolonged period of time for no reason, or a massively amplified response to a common situation. To put it into perspective, when my anxiety was at its’ worst I could not eat, sleep or sit still at any point of the day – this is incredibly different to feeling a little nauseated before your driving test.
I hope this has cleared up some misconceptions about mental illness and I would like to reiterate that mental illnesses are illnesses – not choices. Living with mental illness is a constant battle and I could not imagine having to get through this alone, which is why everyone needs to become more educated to get rid of the stigma, No one should ever be embarrassed of an illness but, unfortunately, this is the world we are living in right now and I would love to change it for the better. Let your friends know that you support them in their fight to recover – it will mean a lot to them.